At the beginning of their Test journey, when Bangladesh were desperately looking for some fresh blood, Mohammad Ashraful and Mashrafee bin Murtaza arrived at the scene in 2001 and made an instant impact. Apart from these two cricketers, the only other youngster Bangladesh had high hopes on was Nafees Iqbal, a flamboyant, crowd-pleasing opening batsman who had everything in him to become a top player.
The biggest advantage Nafees had was the sporting background of his family, something that not too many players of his age could boast of. Son of renowned footballer Iqbal Khan and nephew of Bangladesh’s larger-than-life former captain Akram Khan, Nafees could have easily been the darling boy of Bangladesh cricket fans. I personally had high expectations for Nafees, especially after watching him hoisting Habibul Bashar for two sixes in an over in a National Cricket League match in Cumilla in 2001.
Nafees made international headlines for the first time when he struck a century against a full-strength England team during a tour match in 2003. No teenager could hammer the English spinners with such disdain like Nafees on his way to 118 off 168 balls in the match. The English media, however, used more column inches to describe his statement than his century itself after Nafees dubbed their spinners ‘ordinary’ at the end of opening day’s play.
It was during this match, Bangladesh’s present chief selector Minhajul Abedin told me to look at a boy, barely 13, who was playing with a toy bat on the sideline of the BKSP ground. ‘Don’t get too excited just by watching him [Nafees], you should rather look at the younger one. He is the much better batsman,’ this is how Minhajul introduced me to Tamim Iqbal. I had no reason to doubt Minhajul, who had a clear idea about the talents from his home town Chattogram.
Tamim took very few years to show that it was not an overstatement. While Nafees declined fast owing to his poor fitness, Tamim rose meteorically after winning his national cap in a one-day international against Zimbabwe in 2007. Selectors did not hesitate much to hand Tamim a national call-up after he struck a splendid 188 off 160 balls in a Dhaka Premier League match for Old DOHS earlier in the same year. This is still his highest innings in a limited over match, though it remained absent in the record books because DPL was not recognised as a List-A competition back then. We all have seen later how Tamim destroyed India in the 2007 World Cup to prove us that his debut was not at all hastened.
I was lucky to be present in his debut Test in Dunedin, which I would remember for the rest of my life for plenty of reasons. My first memory of the game is the loud conversation between two journalists at the makeshift press box. For us it was a normal scene at a press box as we used to do it during almost every home Test match. But New Zealand cricket authorities thought otherwise as they went to call police thinking that the conversation could turn into a scuffle at any time. We struggled to convince them that there was nothing wrong here.
I also remember the game for the first Test pair of Aftab Ahmed and a funny word of Shahadat Hossain who told us in a post-match briefing that Ashraful was given out lbw for ‘international pad up.’ The only positive memory for me from the game is Tamim’s twin fifty in his debut Test and his record 161-run opening stand with Junaed Siddique in the second innings before Bangladesh’s familiar collapse.
I was still not intimate enough with Tamim to describe a personal memory of him. I got this rare opportunity on my way back home from the Australia tour in 2008 when Bangladesh team and I took the same return flight. During our transit I had a long chat with him at the Hong Kong airport.
At one stage of our conversation, Tamim inquired about Bangladesh’s next series. I informed him it is against New Zealand at home and promised him a treat at any restaurant he prefers in Dhaka if Bangladesh can win a match in the series. Bangladesh team gave me a pleasant surprise by winning the very first match of the series, which was more significant because it was also the team’s first match after massive ICL exodus.
My journalist friends told me Tamim was looking for me after the presentation ceremony when I was busy filing my report. I still owe Tamim the promised treat.
The writer is the sports editor of New Age
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